My wife and I took our girls out to see the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday evening (that's women's pro soccer, for the uninitiated), and I was just settling into my seat when I heard a shout..."Andrew Buchanan! Is that you?"
My first thought was, of course, "Uh oh, what did I do?" Yes, I was with the wife and kids, but when solo or with buddies I've still been known to try to sneak into better seats or smuggle something into the stadium that isn't allowed.
"It's David Quinn with the Red Stars," the man said. "Just want to make sure your seats are okay."
"Yea, good," I said, still a little stunned. My wife asked how I knew that guy.
I told her he must be the group ticket dude just checking up on folks, but then remembered I'd only bought six tickets and didn't go through the group office. I did buy the tickets through my daughter's soccer league, so maybe that's how he knew.
Anyway, it was an immediate sign that this wasn't Wrigley Field or any of the other pro sports stadiums in town. In those places it often seems like they almost want you to have a miserable time.
I've left games at Soldier Field and half expected an employee to be standing outside shouting, "And don't come back!"
At the Red Stars game, Mr. Quinn could later be seen leading cheers, and they deliver your tub of popcorn to your seats. My wife went to get some snacks and they just happened to be popping some new corn.
After apologizing profusely, the girl at the concession stand said she'd bring the popcorn to our seats. And she did within five minutes.
There was also the nice moment pictured above, when after the game one of the players, upon being told it was my daughter's fifth birthday, pulled her onto the field for a photo.
It was the final home game of the season and many of the players lingered long afterward to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans.
The team also held a sign thanking fans, showing yet again how far this was from the NFL or NBA.
We had arranged to have a birthday message flashed on the big screen for my daughter (for a $35 donation to charity) and were told it would go up at the 35th minute of the game.
When that moment came and went with no message, I tracked down a team employee and he was deeply concerned.
He apologized several times and said he'd look into it right away. A few minutes later another team employee came to our seats to say the message would run twice in the second half. And it did.
Shortly after that I devoured a delicious plate of nachos that was infinitely better than any nacho-type dish I've eaten at a sporting event anywhere, and I was starting to enjoy this women's soccer thing.
And the inspired Red Stars were kicking tail, going up 2-0 and then answering a late Los Angeles Sol goal with one of their own. The final: 3-1.
So we had that going for us, too. I visited the team website before the game and learned that the Red Stars actually kind of suck and that the Sol had already clinched the league title and qualified for the playoffs.
L.A. had beaten Chicago 4-0 a month earlier, so maybe they were mailing it in on this night...apparently the women do share something with their male counterparts in pro sports.
I'm somewhat of a soccer novice and share the concern of many Americans about the sport: the lack of freakin' scoring!
I mean, the Red Stars had a stretch this season when they scored two goals in nine games. Not two goals each game, two goals total. That may help explain why the team hasn't exactly swept the city off its feet.
Actually, that's kind of a cheap shot. They seated all the fans on one side of Toyota Park, so our side of the stadium was full, and the announced crowd was 7,959, the largest of the year for the Red Stars.
Still, it says something when you feel the need to do that. The Marlins don't block off portions of the upper deck at Landshark Stadium because they're afraid somebody will get heat stroke up there.
Toyota Park is the home of the MLS Chicago Fire, and it's a nice place to see a game. The location in suburban Bridgeview leaves much to be desired, but the stadium itself is beautiful and has great sightlines. And for this night, anyway, it had a winning Red Stars team and some happy fans.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to begin following women's pro soccer, but David Quinn and those other earnest team employees will be glad to know this: If the WPS lives to see another year and the Red Stars are back in Toyota Park, we probably will be, too.
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